With a series of challenging contests in the near future, Mike Brey wants to avoid a conference losing streak. After taking care of Georgetown to start the gauntlet, the Irish (12-4, 3-2) fell at the hands of Louisville earlier this week, dropping them to the eighth spot in the Big East. The Orange (16-2, 4-1) are similarly coming off of a defeat, after losing their most recent contest against the Hoyas, putting them in fifth place. Brey knows the talent that Syracuse boasts, and actually sees some similarities between both clubs.
"They're so talented offensively. They can score it from a number of different spots," Brey said. "In a lot of ways we're very similar style teams offensively. I think the biggest thing is, ‘Can you slow them down a little bit offensively?' Because they can really get in a rhythm and they can get to 85 or 90 pretty quick. Certainly when you play them you play against a 2-3 zone. We've had some success playing against that and playing against them."
Part of the reason as to why Syracuse has risen to the top 10 early on in the season despite being unranked in the pre-season, is because of its catalyst point guard in Jonny Flynn. The athletic sophomore leads the squad in points with 16.3, assists with 5.7 and steals with 1.5 per game, respectively. Brey and the Irish witnessed the skill that Flynn possesses first hand, in last season's 94-87 win at the Joyce Center in which Flynn had 17 points.
"He's one of the most improved players in the league and there is no point guard playing better," Brey said. "He certainly is kind of the thing that makes them go. What's really helped Jonny Flynn is having a few healthy weapons back around him in [Eric] Devendorf and [Andy] Rautins."
When the Irish travel to New York to face the Orange, one of their own athletic point guards will be going up against Flynn in what should be one of the most intriguing matchups of the contest. Junior Tory Jackson will be delegated with the task of keeping Flynn in check, and with the speed and athleticism of both guards, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Brey is well aware of the impact the matchup will have on the outcome of the game.
"Probably that quickness may be a toss-up," Brey said. "It's a great matchup, it's two really good guards. I mean I wouldn't trade my guy for anybody in the country. That's a heck of a matchup, those two guys going at each other. Both guys have energy and juice that their teammates pick up off of and there's a toughness about both of them that want the ball at key times and are unafraid. That's a pretty good matchup. If those guys are playing one-on-one tonight somewhere, I'd pay to go watch that because that's a pretty good game."
Another one of the Orange's main threats is the squad's leading rebounder in Paul Harris. The junior forward is pacing Syracuse with 8.5 boards per contest, tenth-best in the league.
"Paul Harris is playing as well as he's ever played in his career and the big in the middle has made great jumps," Brey said.
In addition to Harris, center Arinze Onuaku provides a low-post presence in both scoring and rebounding. The junior leads the nation in field goal percentage with 69.8 to go along with his 12.3 points per contest and eight rebounds per game. The other main scoring threat that Syracuse brings to the court is in Eric Devendorf, who is netting 14.3 points per game, most notably through his outside shooting.
One of Notre Dame's weaknesses that has come to light in its recent defeats is the method in which the Irish ball handlers have been flustered with backcourt pressure. Through the employment of a full-court press, Louisville was largely successful against the Irish, creating turnovers and producing offensive opportunities, aiding them towards its victory last Monday. Although Notre Dame has been vulnerable to the press, Brey does not think that Syracuse will necessarily alter its style of play.
"There's no question that full court pressure and rotating four fresh guards on you, it takes its toll on you," Brey said. "Syracuse has never done that. Syracuse will play the way they play. Jim [Boeheim] is not going to adjust how he plays, I don't think. I think Syracuse plays how Syracuse plays."
For Notre Dame to be successful, it will have to turn to reigning Big East Player of the Year and conference-leading scorer in Luke Harangody. The junior forward is leading the league in scoring with 24.8 points per game and second in rebounding with 12.7 per contest. Harangody has achieved a double-double in his past six games and is looking to extend this streak.
Additionally, Kyle McAlarney is looking to be as instrumental in the contest as he was in last season's match against the Orange when he hit a then-record nine three pointers en route to 30 points in the win. The senior shooting guard has picked up double figures in points in his past five games, and could be a key cog in Saturday's game against the Orange.
Saturday's contest against Syracuse certainly won't be easy. It definitely won't be a guaranteed victory, either. If the Irish are to excel in a loaded Big East, however, they will need to win games such as these and create a winning streak within conference play. After all, there is nothing better to help forget the pain of Monday's loss against Louisville than a convincing victory over one of Notre Dame's most-hated conference rivals.